Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

 

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WOMEN, CULTURE AND RIGHTS IN ACHOLI Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 2017 1

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“Shift the paradigm perspective from one that views culture merely as an obstacle to women’s rights and empowerment to one that seeks to ensure women’s equal enjoyment of rights” - Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Page SUMMARY...................................................................................................................................................... 3 1. INTRODUCTION............................................................................................................................................. 4 Culture, rights and women’s empowerment.................................................................................................... 4 The research process..................................................................................................................................... 4 2. WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN ACHOLI TRADITION....................................................... 6 Rights and responsibilities in pre-colonial and colonial Acholi........................................................................ 6 Values and principles informing Twero............................................................................................................ 7 3. FROM TRADITION TO MODERNITY - DRIVERS OF CHANGE ................................................................ 11 Introduction of a cash economy.................................................................................................................... 11 Western education and religion.................................................................................................................... 11 Urbanisation ................................................................................................................................................. 11 Civil strife....................................................................................................................................................... 12 New perspectives on human rights............................................................................................................... 12 Population growth......................................................................................................................................... 13 4. CULTURALLY DEFINED WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES TODAY ..................................... 14 Land rights.................................................................................................................................................... 14 Marital rights ................................................................................................................................................. 15 Protection against violence........................................................................................................................... 17 Participation and decision-making................................................................................................................ 17 Peace-building and the power to bless and curse....................................................................................... 18 Access to education and information .......................................................................................................... 19 The duty of care and women returnees from captivity or war....................................................................... 20 5. THE PERSISTENCE OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS INFORMED BY CULTURE: MAJOR CAUSES.................... 20 A desire to retain one’s cultural identity......................................................................................................... 21 The use of traditional justice structures......................................................................................................... 21 Advantages of traditional practices .............................................................................................................. 22 Limited impact of human rights actors and development partner................................................................. 22 6. CULTURALLY-DEFINED WOMEN’S RIGHTS: OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT..... 23 Women’s land rights and food security ....................................................................................................... 23 Marital rights.................................................................................................................................................. 23 Promoting rights and women’s role in nurturing youth ................................................................................. 24 Women’s participation in decision-making and peace-building..................................................................... 24 Protecting women’s rights through cultural institutions................................................................................. 25 The power of orature..................................................................................................................................... 26 7. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS............................................................................................. 27 Statutory law and culture............................................................................................................................... 27 The need for research and a paradigm shift................................................................................................. 27 Strengthening cultural institutions ................................................................................................................ 27 Building women’s capacity to utilise the spaces culture provides................................................................. 28 Changing methods and drawing from ‘within’............................................................................................... 28 Endnotes....................................................................................................................................................... 29 2 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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SUMMARY Culture and traditions have often been perceived in Uganda as reinforcing gender inequality and abetting the oppression and subordination of women and girls. The research presented in this report, which focuses on the Acholi region in the North of the country, set out to explore the hypothesis that: “Women’s rights in Acholi not only stem from the current statutory (legal) construct but are also defined by tradition, which can be used to enhance their empowerment for harmonious living”. The research process relied on qualitative information, gathered from a variety of published and non-published sources, as well as extensive field work in the urban and rural areas of Gulu, Kitgum and Lamwo districts. Semi-structured questionnaires tailored to suit the different respondents were used. The data collected was triangulated for accuracy and respondents were purposively selected, reflecting their knowledge, expertise and the roles they play in various Acholi cultural practices. The research establishes that culturally defined women’s and girls’ rights were well defined and protected up to the early 1960’s, when ‘traditional’ Acholi cultural norms and principles prevailed. Before Uganda’s independence, women were recognised and respected for the important role (albeit less visible than men’s) they played in decision-making, in nurturing families, as integral actors in cultural institutions, and as leading some spiritual and cultural practices. The research outcomes also show that Acholi culture today still has well-structured systems through which these gender rights have been passed on from generation to generation. Some of these culturallydefined rights have persisted in their original form while others have been eroded or re-engineered into their present day manifestation. This evolution has been caused by various factors, both internal and external to Acholi traditions and customs. Where these culturally-informed gender rights and practices have persisted, this has been due to a perceived need to belong, associate and identify as Acholi women and men. Some of these present opportunities to empower women and girls today, provided traditional leaders, men and the community generally, display the necessary political will and support. These opportunities are linked to the traditional roles that women play in peace-building, the nurturing and socialisation of children, and using the power of orature as a communication tool to bring about change in perceptions and attitudes on gender relations among children as they grow up. Others include the role of women in the agricultural sector and their traditional responsibility for food security, their power to bless or curse, and their skills in community mobilisation for collective social and economic support and progress. This research seeks to provide a knowledge base not only for women and girls to enhance their own ability to use cultural values and practices to defend their rights, but also for cultural institutions and other development actors to better utilise cultural values and practices in decision-making and conflict resolution,and to promote the rights of women in their areas of operation or jurisdiction. Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 3

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1. INTRODUCTION Culture, rights and women’s empowerment Concerns about the marginalisation and oppression of women have dominated the development discourse in Uganda for the past six decades. Within this discourse, patriarchy, culture and traditions are often perceived as reinforcing gender inequality and abetting the subjugation of women and girls1. Uganda’s human and women’s rights movements have attempted over the same period to address the social injustices women suffer, but their prescriptions have often failed to explore or build on what could be termed ‘culturally-defined women’s rights’, which remain largely unheard of2. At best, there has only been a superficial appreciation of the cultural context in which communities evolve and limited engagement with key players in cultural communities, some of whom are women. Partly as a result, attempts to secure social justice for women through legal means have often met with only fleeting success. Resistance, such as in the case of the fight against female genital mutilation3, has frequently been encountered by development actors as they seek to advance the realisation of women’s rights, in spite of any heightened level of knowledge of statutory rights by both rights holders and duty bearers4. Such challenges are also reflected in the focus placed by the human rights movement on political, civil and economic rights, with less attention given to social and cultural rights, in spite of their importance in defining dignity and in attaining social justice5 . There is however a body of evidence which suggests that women have been traditionally recognised and respected for the important role (albeit less visible than men’s) they play in decision-making, nurturing families, as integral actors in cultural institutions, and leading spiritual and cultural practices6. There is evidence too that in view of these roles, culture can provide opportunities to improve gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment7. Given this background, and with support from Diakonia, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) has embarked on an initiative to “Enhance women’s empowerment using culturally-defined rights” in selected communities in Acholi. The first step has been to conduct research that may inform other interventions. This was designed to test the hypothesis that “Women’s rights in Acholi not only stem from the current statutory construct but are also defined by tradition, which can be used to enhance their empowerment for harmonious living”. The research therefore sought to examine the existence of culturally-defined rights for women’s and girls’ and their capacity to use cultural values and principles to promote their rights. It also sought to establish how cultural and other institutions have supported (or not) their use in decision-making and conflict resolution, in order to defend the rights of women in their areas of jurisdiction or influence. This report presents research outcomes and recommendations, which cultural institutions and other development actors may find useful to inform their approaches as they promote gender justice and human rights in Acholi and beyond. The research process The research effort focused on the Acholi districts of Gulu, Lamwo and Kitgum. The selection of Acholi stemmed partly from CCFU’s experience in the region and partly from the historically and socially disadvantaged situation of communities in northern Uganda, compared to other parts of the country8. Such disparity can, to a great extent, be attributed to the 20year civil war that ravaged Acholi and forced the entire rural population to leave their homes to live in camps for fear of being attacked or abducted by the rebels9. During this period, displacement and violence led to a breakdown in social and cultural structures, and to intense psychological, social and economic suffering10. Research relied on qualitative information, gathered from a variety of published and non-published 4 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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sources, as well as extensive field work in both the urban and rural areas of the three districts. Semistructured questionnaires tailored to suit the different categories of people were administered. A total of 546 respondents (363 female and 183 male) were interviewed, including religious leaders, academicians, cultural leaders (men and women), opinion leaders, development workers, women who have returned from captivity, youth, people living with a disability and other community members. Community interactions were either conducted as individual interviews or through focus group discussions. There are a number of limitations of this work. First, cost and other considerations did not allow research to be carried out beyond the 3 districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Lamwo11. Second, the literature available on culturally informed rights is fragmentary, especially where the current context is concerned: there is limited written authority on contemporary Acholi culture, and some sources are contested. Third, qualitative research inevitably relies on personal accounts that cannot always be fully corroborated. Finally, the participation of youth was somewhat limited, as the social upheavals mentioned above has curtailed their knowledge of relevant Acholi cultural norms and traditions, and their responses tended to focus more on a ‘modern’ understanding of rights. The views gathered from respondents in communities that are being supported by development organisations engaged in ‘rights activism’ also reflected this orientation This research report nevertheless presents findings that the authors believe provide a valid basis for further engagement. The three research districts, with their similarities and peculiarities, reflect to a large extent the wider Acholi reality.12 Respondents were purposively selected to generate diverse information on past and present perspectives, from different generational and gender viewpoints, as well as from urban and rural outlooks. Some of the male participants were especially chosen because of their roles in the community and their knowledge of Acholi culture. The information gathered from the large and varied group of respondents was also, whenever possible and necessary, triangulated with additional interviews and the researchers made aware of possible biases, such as when respondents share opinions informed by what they think is expected of them (especially where observance of statutory rights is concerned). Field consultations were also held with respondents separated according to age, sex and leadership positions, to minimise influence and biases. Finally, the range of secondary sources consulted provided an important check on the results of the field consultations. A community consultation with women and girls in Gulu Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 5

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2. WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN ACHOLI TRADITION To understand culturally-informed women’s rights in Acholi today, we must first review the cultural context of Acholi society and its understanding of rights in precolonial and colonial times. Subsequent chapters bring the discussion to the contemporary context, seeking points of historical continuity and change. Rights and responsibilities in pre-colonial and colonial Acholi Acholi was and still is a patriarchal agrarian society organised along social, political and spiritual dimensions13. In the pre-colonial and colonial eras, the Acholi maintained cultural beliefs about the spirit world and their social order based on co-existence at three levels: the past (which consisted of the deceased), the present (the living), and the future (those to come).14 What took place in the world of the dead influenced and even determined the present and the future, while the present provided a medium of connection between past and future. Women had a critical role to play in this connection by virtue of their reproductive and productive roles and this greatly influenced the high social standing that women held in Acholi society15. This worldview shaped perceptions of what was right, just, true or wrong, and influenced justice processes, including forgiveness and reconciliation in conflict resolution16. ‘Rights’ were defined by culture and interpreted, implemented and passed on from generation to generation by society as a whole. These notions differed from rights as currently defined by statutory law. Twero (the general word for rights) rather defined roles, authority or power over something. Such authority was legitimately derived from the Acholi cultural norms and practices of the time17. Until the early 1980’s, the concept of rights in Acholi was largely understood as placing emphasis on roles, rather than entitlements. Roles consisted of ‘must do’s’ and it was in the fulfilment of one’s roles that rights and entitlements could be realised. Rights or entitlements therefore did not exist independently of responsibilities. Enforcing rights in pre-colonial Acholi was primarily informed by the consciousness that was instilled in all individuals as they were socialised through informal learning at the fireplace18 and by observing decisionmaking in families and communities. There was no written law to refer to, but rather a body of norms, principles, traditions and expectations, reflected in daily life and actions. Every individual, male and female, whose rights had been violated, could demand redress. Women participated in community and family leadership although their involvement at the community level was limited. Their participation in the public sphere was through representation in a well-structured system of governance that was male-dominated. At the top of the hierarchy was the chiefdom headed by the Rwot, supported by a council of elders. Women were also represented in this council by their elder leader, the Rwot Mon (or Lawi Mon), who led on all chiefdom task for women, such as giving blessings, funeral rites, marriage ceremonies, community sanitation, etc. Below the Rwot and his council, villages would also include women leaders, the Rwot Okoro, whose role was mainly to mobilise women for agriculturallyrelated activities. A village (mwoc) was made up of a number of clans living together, all headed by men. Women’s participation in clan leadership was limited because they were expected to marry and transit to their husbands’ clans, but elderly and respectable women married into a particular clan – the mege madong or mege madit – (singular mego) were often consulted on clan matters.They also acted as role models to girls, other women and played an advisory role to young couples, They mobilised other women for social events and support, and were engaged in dispute resolution.19 Justice was dispensed to ensure compliance with one’s prescribed responsibilities through the structures mentioned above. The leaders taking part in the resolution of a dispute depended on its nature: land issues for instance mainly involved men, with one or two women, while disputes involving women only were handled by women only. 6 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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All rights related issues were handled at the household or extended family levels as point of first instance by the father or mother-in-law and, in the event of failure to reach an agreement, an appeal to a higher level (the clan or the chief and his council)was made20. The Rwot and his council were the last appellate level on chiefdom matters, on inter-clan issues and issues that were not resolved at clan level. The dispensers of justice based their decisions on spiritual guidance and the principles and values that sustained Acholi social order, to which we turn next. Values and principles informing Twero Just as ethical principles underlie statutory human rights, the traditional Acholi concept of twero was informed by unwritten - but expressed and lived principles and values that guided interactions between individuals, families, clans, chiefdoms and society generally. These provided the foundation for beliefs and practices and reflected the three-level world view described above, with the special responsibility placed on ‘the present’ to connect the two worlds of past and future. These principles and values were passed on from generation to generation through informal education and included: • Respect, which was fundamental to every action and included deference for the elders, men, women and their leaders, the disabled, children and future generation, departed relatives and the supernatural. Every individual was respected in his or her own capacity. • Honesty, integrity and truthfulness, which were also key values guiding the Acholi in their actions. An honest man or woman was respected and these values informed the choice of community leaders, such as the mege madong, and the Rwot Mon. • Justice, which provided the benchmark for dispute resolution within families, clans and chiefdoms. Justice was prompt, never delayed. • Community responsibility, which made every individual accountable to the clan and to the community. This anchored a strong sense of responsibility towards one another and guided the justice system. The community’s perspective on the notions of right and wrong took precedence over the individual’s. Even today, “as Acholi society is traditionally clan-based and collective, the whole clan may experience negative consequences for individual violations of the moral code. Thus, the clan traditionally takes collective responsibility for making good any violations”21 • Reconciliation and restoration, which were key principles informing the Acholi justice system. Penalties were intended to be deterrent, and to restore social order, rather than be punitive. • Value for life and belief in the future, which meant that every action undertaken had an end beneficiary as ‘the future’. This shaped morals and behaviour, promoted conservation of property and culture, and the exercise of self-restraint. The enforcement of the community’s notion of women’s rights (or twero pa mon) was informed by these values and principles enumerated above (especially the principles of justice, reconciliation, restoration, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, community accountability and respect). Enforcement of these rights, as for others, was meant to appeal to one’s human conscience and sought one’s acknowledgement that an action was right or wrong. Women’s rights in precolonial and colonial Acholi In pre-colonial and colonial times, women were revered, in part because of the reproductive, protective, decision-making and productive roles they played22. They had to be protected jealously, even at the cost of one’s life. Women’s status was also based on the premise that the role of the present generation as medium of connection between past and future generations could not be fulfilled without a woman. It was therefore through women that hope in the future could be sustained. This consideration informed the nature and complementarity23 of the roles and responsibilities assigned to both women and men by a society which, while patriarchal in nature, had to ensure the sustenance, survival and protection of Acholi women. It was therefore through women that Acholi culture was expected to thrive, as reflected by the nature of informal education and nurturing mechanisms. As one respondent put it, “…the duty to pass on traditional cultures and customs squarely lay with women. To me the real Acholi is the woman”24, while another remarked “….women were regarded as protectors…they were the strength that kept families, clans and chiefdoms”25. Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 7

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The character of a family, clan or chiefdom was thus largely informed by the character of its women. Rwot Latim of Pawel for instance explained: “In Acholi, we looked at women as chief advisors. Acholi protects women’s rights and we give due respect to them because a home is not a home until there is a wife…. the character of a home is largely defined by the women in that home.” Land rights Rights and responsibilities with regard to land illustrate this orientation. Food production and food security were vital and food was itself considered as ‘the future’26. Central to this was the woman and the trust placed by the community to deliver its members to this ‘future’. Every woman – married or not – had a right to access land for use and had unlimited powers to determine how that land was used (except giving it away or exchanging it). Land was linked to motherhood and was often referred to, for example, as “ngom pa mina Akello” (Akello’s mother’s land). Despite the fact that men were the ultimate decision makers on apportioning land, the land rights of women whether widowed, single, divorced or separated were always protected; widows inherited the estates of their deceased husbands and the responsibility of apportioning land to the sons when they came of age was their sole prerogative. Girls were not appointed heirs to their father’s property because they were expected to later move to their husband’s clan, but both girls and boys had an equal enforceable right to access and utilise their father’s property. Single women, whether mothers or not, as well as separated or divorced women, had a right to access land at their birth place as long as they lived with their family. Clan leaders were responsible for ensuring respect for every family member’s rights and their decisions were guided by the values and principles mentioned in the preceding section. Men were prohibited from controlling the produce and not allowed to look into a granary, whose control was the sole responsibility of women, even when some produce was to be sold or exchanged. If a man contravened this, he was seen as irresponsible, disrespected by society, ridiculed in songs27 and could be divorced without any refund of the dowry. Women acted as the “family bankers”, in consultation with their spouses, despite the proceeds or income having been earned by both husband and wife in their complementary roles. Such proceeds were kept in pots (agulu) that men were prohibited from opening. Women were free to engage in awak and ayela (community and family social support groups respectively) to boost food production. It was the men’s responsibility to provide their wives or sisters with support in agriculture. It was also a man’s role to clear the land and to do other work that needed much physical energy, while the woman weeded and harvested. Women had the right to be supported with tools and resources for production, such as farming inputs and granaries, by the men, especially their husbands, fathers or fathers-in-laws and brothers. Agulu pots displayed at Ms. Atube’s family museum in Pagen, Lamwo District 8 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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Marital rights Another area where women’s rights were apparent was marital rights. Women largely had the right to choose their husbands and marriage was seen as sacred and consensual28. The Acholi were often polygamous. Clan members were obliged to support their sons to marry by way of contributing to dowry payment, but this only applied to the first marriage and was seen as a commitment by the young man and his clan to protect the bride. Men used to pay dowry using the wealth brought in by a sister’s dowry, giving her a greater say in the brother’s marriage than all the other siblings. Her role was to ensure the stability of her brother’s marriage. No divorce would take place without it being sanctioned by the family of the man and this had to be subject to a fair hearing to the couple. This made marriage a concern for the extended family where the interests of the women were well protected. In marriage, all wives had the right to be provided for separately within a polygamous setting. Each wife had a right to privacy, to a separate piece of land, granary and other resources necessary for family survival. Women were not allowed to share the same bed and each had her own house and household property, as expressed in the adage cip pa mon pe twome (the hems of women’s skirts do not touch). Each wife also had a right to make independent decisions within her own home and these had to be respected by everyone, especially family members. The consent of a first wife for a man to marry another woman was mandatory. A wife had the right to withhold such consent for good reasons, such as the husband’s failure to provide for her and the children. The right to security Women were entitled to a violence-free environment in the home and community. It was for instance forbidden for anyone to kill a woman29, even from an enemy camp and if this happened, the culprit would be killed by his own side to keep away the spirit of mother-nature from avenging the death, and a cleansing ceremony performed30. Sexual violence was very rare, as the punishments were severe and deterred potential perpetrators. Young girls had to be protected by their brothers and the community in general, especially while in public spaces or community ceremonies, such as at raka-raka dances. Domestic violence was strongly condemned and attracted community action from elders, clan leaders, mothers and fathers in-law against the perpetrators, especially by the culprit’s father in case of wife beating. A woman’s cry resulting from violence or social injustice should never be heard and if this happened, “Elders would come very early in the morning one by one and sit outside the house. The ladit Paco or ladit Dogola (family head) would invite them in, but they would refuse. You can imagine how threatening this was. They would ask to talk to the head of the household. When he came to meet them, one of the elders would ask, “We heard a woman’s wail from the direction of your home; did you hear it too?” The household head would then be put to task to explain why he had failed to teach his son or grandson and the elders would ask him to have a meal prepared for them as they sorted out the matter. He would have to select an animal from the kraal, usually from the guilty son’s or grandson’s animals”31. This affected the family wealth and acted as a prohibitive measure in case of domestic violence. It was also believed that the spirit that descended upon a community in reaction to the injustices caused to a woman was the hardest to cleanse and the size of the animal slaughtered had to reflect the gravity of such a matter. Decision-making The rights of women to participate in matters affecting them were more evident within families than at community level, reflecting their family roles. Their decision-making powers could be both direct (in private) and indirect (in public). No man would for instance exchange the family’s livestock without his wife’s consent, although livestock was considered a man’s property. Even when contributing selected animals to a son of the clan for his marriage, a wife’s approval was mandatory. A married woman had a right to appeal against any forceful removal of livestock to the family elders, who were obliged to pass a just and fair ruling on the matter. It was believed that in the event of unjust decisions affecting this woman, the proposed marriage would not last and calamities would befall the community. The clan, the father or the mother-in-law, the Rwot Mon, Rwot Okoro, daake32, mego madong and the Rwot’s council had to ensure justice and peaceful co-existence between men and women. These structures - whether women participated directly or indirectly - reflected gender roles and responsibilities. The Rwot Okoro, Rwot Mon and mege madong, consulted and represented other women in clan or community meetings. The meaningful participation of Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 9

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women in male-dominated meetings could however be undermined since men had the discretion to invite participants.The decisions of first wives on clan matters were nevertheless especially sought after because they were expected to serve the interests of the clan that contributed to their dowry. Decision makers were interdependent: thus, whereas it was the role of men to go to war and doing so was decided by the Rwot council, they would not proceed without the women’s sanction in the form of a blessing, using the “oboke olwedo” (a special plant for the purpose). Similar blessings had to be obtained for all types of decisions – marriage, hunting trips, journeys, and for good health. These blessings were at times withheld, depending on the reasons given by the senior women in the community. Only a few women were however consulted or involved in such decision-making, and they might have had a limited degree of independence to withhold consent as they would be obliged to “show respect”. There were however instances where blessings were withheld33 and the decisions respected, indicating that withholding consent was informed by principles of community accountability and justice, as interpreted by women. Education In pre-colonial and colonial Acholi, all children were entitled to practical informal education, including orphans34 Girls’ education was mainly provided by women as mentors, especially by the mother, grandmother and aunts at the wang mac or tukeno (fireplace for girls) while boys were groomed by men - fathers, grandfathers and uncles - at the wang-oo (fireplace for boys). Informal learning largely shaped the morals and characters of individuals. To conclude, Acholi women were better able in the period up to independence to fulfil what may now be termed their social, economic and cultural rights than their political rights. Acholi society was characterised by a situation where women’s rights and responsibilities were limited to their culturally-defined place in society. and directly reflected their sphere of existence and socially prescribed roles (revolving around their reproductive, productive and advisory functions.) These rights were interpreted using the lenses of Acholi ethical principles and values. This enabled women to survive, to be protected, to associate and to receive justice, as any other member of the community. 10 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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3. FROM TRADITION TO MODERNITY - DRIVERS OF CHANGE Acholi women’s rights have evolved in contradictory directions, especially since the independence period, with the introduction of new values, practices and knowledge. The once revered position of Acholi women in society has been challenged, with men taking over previously pre-dominant women’s responsibilities and entitlements. This chapter examines the main reasons for such changes. Introduction of a cash economy British colonialism led to the introduction of a cash economy in Acholi in the early years of the twentieth century. This had a direct impact on social and gender relations: the scramble for large pieces of land to produce cash crops for individual benefit (and in order to pay tax, levied on men) undermined the principle of community accountability and mutual caring as individual capitalist traits started emerging. Women’s authority to determine land usage was challenged and their right to access land started being violated35. Land that used to be referred to by the woman’s name now changed to men’s names, who assumed greater control over it. The family decision-making powers that women wielded were also eroded. The strength of the Acholi family - the interdependence and complementarity of roles and responsibilities of husband and wife – was undermined and replaced by the struggle to be independent and self-accounting36. Women’s position as family ‘bankers’ and planners was overtaken by the desire to earn cash. Men abandoned their social support roles in food production and in nurturing their families. Women resorted to hard labour chores, such as opening up land,a task previously undertaken by men, in an effort to ensure family sustainability37. As the situation evolved, farming tasks were redistributed among men and women with the latter producing largely for family consumption (without income) while the proceeds from the men’s plots were no longer handed over to the women as was previously the norm, breeding conflict and domestic violence. With money, disrespect for decisions made by the family dispute resolution systems (father, mother-in law, clan) slowly crept in and disorganised the social order. In sum up, money assumed greater appeal than the traditionally set norm of what was right or wrong38. Western education and religion We have seen that all children were equally entitled to practical and informal education. Informal learning largely shaped the morals and characters of individuals. With the advent of western religion and formal education however, informal learning at the fireplace slowly waned, and with it the moral concepts it imparted39. Education informed by western values, as well as Christian and Islamic religions, demonised culture and disrupted the transmission of cultural values and practices from one generation to the next. Religious converts started questioning the myths and spirituality that informed the core principles and values of the Acholi. Challenging the authority and traditional position of women, including their important function of blessing, as well as the beliefs that protected them, contributed to their vulnerability to abuse. Christianity and Islam placed women in an inferior position. Western education also favoured boys to prepare them for the white collar jobs created by the colonial administration. A gap widened between men and women, especially in relation to access to resources, whose effects are still felt today as employment has increased men’s bargaining power and consolidated their position vis-à-vis women40. Urbanisation The growth of urban centres41, which is on-going, has also had a lasting impact on Acholi women’s culturallydefined rights and social position. Urbanisation has altered the role of the family, the nature of work and has introduced new and often foreign lifestyles. Smaller Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 11

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urban families and the dispersion of extended families have reduced the level of kinship support that used to be available to women. Social responsibility and accountability mechanisms have been eroded, often leaving women unprotected and forced by neglectful men to fend for themselves and for their children. Some women have also moved to urban centres to seek their own sources of work and income, further altering traditional gender relations. Urban women who had lost decision-making powers started recovering their autonomy, but at the cost of increased responsibilities, as illustrated by the challenges of accommodating work, domestic responsibilities and the other imperatives of everyday urban life. Urbanisation has also meant immigration by non-Acholi into the region, seeking business and other economic opportunities, and altering the cultural context in the process. Civil strife The Lord’s Resistance Army war ravaged Acholi from 1986 to 2006 and had a profound impact on the culture and social fabric of its people42. There was mass displacement into concentrated internally displaced people’s camps as protected villages were set up43, exacerbating physical and emotional abuse experienced by women and children44. The social order was sapped and idleness deepened poverty. Husbands and bread winners died while others joined armed bands, leaving their wives primarily responsible for providing for their families and supplementing inadequate food rations. A number of elders – the gate keepers of tradition died too. Norms, practices and traditions that used to be passed on at the fireplace were no longer available or seen as relevant, leaving the young generation without the benefit of the traditional values and principles that guided gender relations45. According to Okot p’Bitek, oral tradition shapes social relations, and those vital relationship-building practices are found in daily activities or life as it is actually lived46 Instead, there were no meaningful activities going on in the camps as men resorted to alcoholism47 while the youth spent time watching western films that influenced their perceptions of what was right or wrong. This escalated violence against women: girls and women were raped in the camps (a previously very rare occurrence) or started exchanging sexual favours with men for food48. Others were abducted and forced to become wives to rebel leaders, in spite of the previously sacred and consensual nature of marriage, as earlier described. Child mothers bore un-wanted children whose fathers were often unknown, leaving the burden of care to these young mothers49. The respect and dignity previously accorded to women suffered accordingly. During the research, many respondents saw this civil strife as the most important factor that undermined Acholi traditions. Atoo Josephine from Palabek summarised it thus: “The LRA civil war was the worst time, when the Acholi tradition was completely lost; people went into camps to live a life contrary to the traditional setting; children lost all sense of tradition; women lost all sense of shame and men all sense of responsibility. There wasn’t any more respect for elders”. Dr. Okaka Okumu50 adds:“[The] 1990’s was the height of the loss of ethics, the family setting was lost, people went into concentration camps and there was no time to control and teach children Acholi values and practices. Films depicting violence and sexual escapades were the order of the day for everyone to watch including children. The financial power of the elders was lost and the young people and women became creative and had all the money. The elderly couldn’t work and people started respecting money rather than ideas and traditional values.” New perspectives on human rights During the war, many organisations supported the displaced population with relief services, human rights protection, psycho-social support and other postconflict development services. This was delivered primarily in accordance with donor agency procedures, rather than with Acholi tradition. Food was for instance distributed to women, undermining the role of men as family heads, and generating resentment by men who subsequently abdicated their role of family protection, leaving the responsibility of nurturing children to women alone. “Men were humiliated”, said a group of elders in Payiira about this period. Similarly, the formal punitive legal system was used, rather than the restorative methods traditionally practiced by the Acholi. Although statutory justice addressed the violation of women’s rights in many circumstances, this distanced women further from the extended family and other social support structures51. As awareness of human and women’s rights was promoted in the camps, emphasis was placed on rights, with little on responsibilities, including those of children and women. This contradicted the traditional 12 Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi

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concept of twero and its stress on responsibilities rather than entitlements. “Gender” came to be understood by men as intended to overhaul the patriarchal social order, leading to further resistance, abdication from their responsibilities and from traditional methods of consultation and complementarity between genders. As a result, children did not learn to work and, as family heads failed to assume their responsibilities to protect and provide for their families, the numbers of broken homes, especially headed by women, increased. Population growth With growing population density since colonial times, pressure on land resources has been mounting, especially in the towns and their vicinity, affecting relationships and social settings. As earlier noted, in pre-colonial and colonial Acholi, each wife in a polygamous marriage had a right to be provided for separately and controlled the assets allocated to her. With population growth, wives have increasingly been forced to share accommodation (previously unthinkable) and have at times to fend for themselves and their children alone. This has led to wrangles and disrespect for women, far from the high esteem they were previously accorded. To conclude, these varied factors have all combined to affect gender relations and to lead to what currently constitutes the way of life of the Acholi. In spite of these changes, many elements of Acholi culture have proved resilient and affect women’s rights in the contemporary context. To this we turn next. Women, Culture and Rights in Acholi 13

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